Mississippi University for Women professor Agnes Carino is taking vitamin C infusions as part of her treatment for Stage 4 breast cancer. She credits the treatment for significantly lowering her cancer cell count since her diagnosis. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
October 13, 2017 10:03:00 AM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
Two years ago, Agnes Carino sat in the office of her oncologist and listened to a grim prediction of what would happen if she did not agree to begin chemotherapy treatment for her Stage 4 cancer.
Carino had instinctively resisted the idea of chemotherapy and was looking for another option in her fight with breast cancer, which began in 2012 with a lumpectomy and radiation treatment and then, in 2015, a mastectomy and the recommendation for regular chemotherapy treatments.
"She didn't say I was going to die," Carino said. "But that's what she was saying. I thought, 'There must be something out there.'"
As it turns out, there was.
For the past 11 months, Carino has been taking high-dose vitamin C infusions. Three times a week, Carino arrives at the Columbus clinic of Dr. Elizabeth Adams, where she receives intravenous injections of vitamin C, 50 grams each visit.
Even though vitamin C has been used on cancer patients for more than 40 years, it is not considered a conventional treatment. The medical community grudgingly recognizes vitamin C has some impact on cancer symptoms, but it is reluctant to consider it a treatment. The FDA does not recognize the treatment, which means it is not covered by health insurance, and while research continues at some universities, the FDA has ordered no clinical trials.
Vitamin C therapy is considered a harmless, but not established treatment.
None of that bothers Carino. She is satisfied with letting the results speak for themselves.
In August, her cancer score had dropped from 268 to 51, the normal range being 0-32.
"And of all the tumors I had, there is only one left," Carino said. "And I think that one is gone, too. I can just feel it."
Finding a different path
Carino is a mathematics professor at Mississippi University for Women and lives in Starkville with her husband, Rick, and daughters Joy, 19, Alisha, 16 and Kaela, 10.
After listening to her oncologist's grim prediction in 2015, Carino began scouring the internet, looking for other options.
She happened upon a website of a cancer survivor -- chisbeatcancer.com -- and stumbled across a video of a woman whose situation seemed identical to her own.
"For me, that was like a message," the 53-year-old Carino said. "Her story was my story. She was about my age, had Stage 4 cancer and vitamin C infusion was working for her. I thought, 'Oh my gosh. This is me.'"
Her research led her to Riordan Clinic in Wichita, Kansas, her first step in her alternative approach to her treatment.
What she found was in stark contrast to what she had been hearing.
"When I went to Kansas, the atmosphere was so different," she said. "It was colorful, optimistic. It had an aura. I said to myself, "I love this place.'"
After consulting with the doctors there and listening to them explain the treatment, she put her cards on the table.
"I said to them, 'I want you to be honest with me because I'm going to invest everything in this. Do I have a fighting chance?' (The doctor) said, 'Yes.' That changed everything. It was an answer to my prayers."
Returning home, the next order of business was arranging for the regular treatments. That, too, Carino said, seemed to her an act of divine intervention.
Dr. Adams trained in internal medicine. She is not an oncologist and has no formal training in cancer treatment.
Like Carino, her involvement in vitamin C infusion was motivated by personal experience.
"I've been doing infusions for about five years," Adams said. "It started when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and I began to research the subject."
Vitamin C infusions did not cure her mother's cancer -- she died in 2016 -- but Adams said there was little doubt the treatment greatly reduced the symptoms of the disease.
"For my mother, the treatment addressed a lot of the quality of life issues," she said. "Hands down, Mom had an amazing journey because of the integrative treatment, which included vitamin C infusions. It was really a beautiful journey. Mom grew and I grew. I know it sounds odd, coming from someone who lost her mother, but it was a beautiful journey."
Both Carino and Adams stress that vitamin C infusions are complementary to traditional treatment, not a replacement.
Carino supplements her infusions with oral chemo pills and regularly visits oncologists in Columbus and Birmingham, Alabama. In addition to that, she is taking a holistic approach to her treatment through exercise and diet (she said it is a 90-percent vegetarian diet).
Adams said the treatment is not for everyone.
"It works better for some than others," said Adams, who currently has three patients undergoing the vitamin C infusions. "It's going to sound odd coming from a doctor, but this treatment speaks to some patients. Those are the ones who benefit. It speaks to Agnes. And the results show it."
Carino said the infusions are a component of the "mind, body, spirit" approach to her treatment. Much like Adams and her mother, she has grown to have a different perspective on her now five-year battle with cancer.
"I had heard people say it before, and it's hard to believe at first, but you come to thank God for cancer," she said. "You would never wish for anybody to have cancer. But out of something tragic, comes something beautiful. It's just the way life is."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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